Scadoxus puniceus

The spectacular paintbrush lily is one of South Africa’s most striking bulbous plants. The name Scadoxus is derived from ‘doxus’ meaning glory or splendour in Greek, referring to the scarlet flowers, and puniceus means reddish – purple. Other common names include snake lily, royal paintbrush and African blood lily. Winter’s coming to an end, the wildpear trees are still flowering and then a flash of brilliant red catches your eye. As spring comes and the ground warms up, these spectacular plants make their presence known. These distinctive bulbous plants, that are dormant in winter like to grow in part sun and shade situations.

All over the Greater Woodmead Estate and in the crevices of the rocky outcrops around Wilds East and Wilds West the veld becomes a colourful mass of dense red heads that consist of numerous smaller scarlet flowers with bright yellow anthers.

The flowers have a look of being big, bold and colourfully spectacular and like the wildpear announce spring is here. They have a short but dazzling bloom period in mid to late spring.
Sunbirds, weavers and other nectiverous birds feed on the nectar produced by the flowers. The young flower heads, protected by bracts and borne on the red to purple spotted flower stalk, appear first, followed by the stem which bears 6 -8 leaves. The glossy green leaves are erect, long and strap-shaped, with wavy margins. The leaves are usually formed after the flowering time. The fruits are fleshy, round, shiny red berries, bearing a single soft pearl-like seed inside. These ripe berries are eaten by birds and monkeys.

With the clearing and removal of the invasive species viz. lantana, bug weed, khaki bos, black jacks and the morning glory creeper over the past two years throughout the Wilds East and the Wilds West pristine bushveld area, there has been a noticeable increase in the paintbrush lily numbers and most definitely an increase in their overall size. Some of these plants are now as tall as 1.5 feet and the clumps are thickening noticeably with the removal of the invasives which were simply smothering the bulbs.

The paintbrush bulb is considered poisonous if ingested in significant amounts and deaths have been reported. The pollen is also reputed to be poisonous. The bulbs and roots of the plant are widely used in traditional medicine for poultices, to treat coughs, headaches, stomach ailments, asthma, sprains and bruises and as an antidote to poisons. It is also used as a diuretic. The leaves are applied to sores and ulcers to aid healing and act as an antiseptic. The plant is also traditionally consumed during pregnancy as part of an herbal regime to ensure a safe delivery.

Fayne Connelly

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